Category Archives: Germanic

A Look at the Altaic Question, a Current Controversy in Linguistics

               Turkic    Tungusic*        Written Mongolian

1P sing.:
 
nominative      ban      bi               bi
oblique stem    man-     min-             min-

2P sing.:

nominative      san      chi    (<*ti)    si
oblique stem    san-     chiin- (<*tin)   sin-

(e.g. Evenki and Manchu)

The Altaic argument is one of the biggest controversies in current linguistics. It is said that Linguistics has decided that Altaic does not exist. Actually, the field has not decided that at all. The consensus in the field is that Altaic is still an open question. In other words, they are fighting about it.

The field is split up into Pro-Altaicists and Anti-Altaicists. It’s not true that the field has decided in favor of the Anti-Altaicists. The Antis say that there is no such thing as Altaic. The Pros said that Altaic exists, and here is the evidence. The consensus instead rejects both positions and says we don’t know if Altaic exists or not. There is a big difference between we don’t know if it exists (maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t) and it doesn’t exist. One statement is uncertainty and the other statement is negative.

According to Anti-Ataicists, every time a human can’t make up their mind about something yes or no, they actually are saying no. No they’re not! They’re not saying yes or no. They are rejecting both positions and saying instead that they are undecided. What the Anti-Altaicists are doing is akin to saying everyone who answers undecided on a political candidate poll is actually saying that want to vote against the person! The entire basis of political polling would change.

The Anti-Altaicists are typically quite vicious, while the other side is not. The safe position is Anti-Altaicism, so a lot of wimpy linguists too scared to stand up and fight have sought refuge in the negative position. Furthermore, Linguistics is like an 8th grade playground. Some positions are openly ridiculed. Pro-Altaicism is openly ridiculed, and taking that position is seen as prima facie evidence that a linguist is a crank, an idiot or a fool. I would imagine that if you told a hiring committee that you believed in Altaic, it would be harder to get hired than if you took the negative stand. And I could imagine that being pro-Altaic might keep you from getting tenure.

Not only are the Antis vicious (all of them are vicious, bar none), but many of them are complete idiots and fools, as seen above in the preposterous conflation of uncertain opinions with negative opinions above. The fools on Bad Linguistics Reddit are evidence of this. They all hate Altaic because they are wimps who are too afraid of a fight, so they take a safe position. They bashed me for saying Altaic was real, saying it was evidence of what a kook and crank I am, when in fact, Altaic exists is a completely acceptable position to take. Many famous linguists have supported Altaic in the past, and a number of top linguists currently support it.

Anti-Altaic papers are often vicious from an academic paper standpoint. In academic papers, you are supposed to be restrained and keep your strong opinions to yourself. Not so with anti-Altaicists. They are over the top insulting and ridiculing towards Altaicists.

Altaicists have accumulated quite a bit of evidence in support of their position. The pronouns above prove Altaic for me. All I have to do is look at those pronoun sets (and there are other pronouns that also line up precisely like above) and I know it’s real.

This is what Joseph Greenberg means when he says that proving whether language families exist and reconstructing proto-languages are two different things.

You figure out a language family by simple inspection. Greenberg uses the mass comparison method, and it has worked very well for him for African languages. His Amerindian languages proposals have not been well accepted, but it’s clear that there is a large family called Amerind. There is 1st person m and second person n all through the family, occurring ~450 times. Personal pronouns are rarely borrowed, and entire personal pronoun sets are almost never borrowed (Piraha did borrow all of its pronouns, but Piraha is bizarre in many ways).

Joanna Nichols, a current spokesperson for the conservative Linguistics Establishment as good as any other (and a fine linguist to boot) states that the current consensus is that there is no such thing as Amerind and that those 450 similar pronouns are all cases of borrowing. Wow! Personal pronoun sets (not just one pronoun but an entire paradigm) were borrowed 450 times in the Americas! That’s one of the most idiotic statements that one could make, but this is the current consensus of linguistic “science.” Dumb or what?

A much better position would be to say that Amerind is uncertain (maybe it exists, maybe it doesn’t), as the negative position is preposterous and idiotic right on its face. Nichols has also stated that all of the Altaic pronouns were borrowed.

That’s even more idiotic because unlike in the Americas, entire large pronoun paradigms exist in Altaic where they do not exist in Amerind. Paradigms, especially pronoun paradigms, are almost never borrowed, and paradigm evidence is considered excellent evidence of genetic relationship. English good, better, best is the same paradigm as German gut, besser, besten. That’s an odd way to set up comparatives, and the fact that that comparative set lines up perfectly is what is known as a paradigm. That one paradigm right there ought to be enough to prove the relatedness of English and German, even leaving out all other massive evidence for relatedness.

Greenberg says that after you decide that languages form a family, then you set about using the comparative method of reconstructing proto-languages, finding sound correspondences and whatnot. The current conservative or reactionary position of the field is that first you reconstruct the proto-languages and then and only then can you prove a language family. That’s absurd. They’re in effect doing everything ass backwards. Incidentally, long ago Edward Sapir agreed with Greenberg that language families were proven first by inspection and only later did reconstruction take place. Sapir also came up with the Amerind hypothesis decades before Greenberg. Sapir is quoted as saying:

Getting down to brass tacks, how are you going to prove Amerind 1st person m and second person n other than genetic relatedness?

– Edward Sapir, 1917?

Who was Edward Sapir? Only one of the greatest linguists in history.

I can look right there at that pronoun paradigm set and tell you flat out that those three language families are related. It’s not possible that all of those languages borrowed all of those pronouns. It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because it couldn’t happen. It’s beyond the realm of statistical probability. A statement that is outside the realm of statistical probability is considered to be for all intents and purposes nonfactual. Ask anyone Statistics major.

Not only has Proto-Altaic been reconstructed at least in a tentative and initial form, but there are regular sound correspondences running through all of the comparative lexicon of the three proto-languages: Proto-Turkic, Proto-Tungusic and Proto-Mongolian.

Regular sound correspondences are another thing we look for. It would mean that every time you have VlV in Language A, you have VnV in Language B (V = vowel). We then say that Language A l -> Language B n. Regular sound correspondences are considered to be excellent evidence of genetic relatedness.

In fact, an entire etymological dictionary of Altaic has been produced, reconstructing a lot of Proto-Altaic lexicon along with the cognates in the daughter languages. This dictionary runs to over 1,000 pages, and it is a true work of art in the social sciences. The entire etymological dictionary has been rejected out of hand by the Anti-Altaicists. However, they have not directly attacked or tried to prove many of the etymologies wrong. They simply looked at it, said it’s junk, laughed at it and ridiculed it, and moved on.

This conservative or even reactionary mood has been the norm in Historic Linguistics for decades now. The field has become very stick in the mud about this.

However, in much of the rest of Linguistics, especially Sociolinguistics, Language Acquisition, and Applied Linguistics, the field has reached consensus on many a silly thing that makes little to no sense at all other than that it sounds very Politically Correct. Linguistics being a social science, PC and SJW Cultural Left culture has infected the field in an awful way.

You must understand that Cultural Left views did not just appear in a few select social sciences. Instead this ideology swept through the entire social sciences, sparing not a one. In terms of a March Through the Institutions for this ideology, it was akin to a rapid hostile takeover. Cultural Left and SJW views are now mandatory in Linguistics. If you refuse to go along, you will not get hired or get tenured. If your reputation is too bad, you may not be able to publish in academic journals or books.

Alas, my field has been poisoned with this Cultural Left toxin or venom like all the rest of them!

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Filed under Altaic, Comparitive, Cultural Marxists, English language, German, Germanic, Language Families, Left, Linguistics, Scholarship, Sociolinguistics, Tungusic, Turkic

From Alchemy to Chemistry, with Rainbows

The name Chemistry is said to be derived from the Arabic word Kimia, something hidden or concealed, and from this to have been converted into Xyueia*, a word first used by the Greeks about the eleventh century and meaning the art of making gold and silver. Between the fifth century and the taking of Constantinople in the fifteenth century, says Dr. Thomson, in his History of Chemistry, the Greeks believed in the possibility of making gold and silver artificially; and the art which professed to teach the processes was called by them Chemistry. This idea, however, has long since been thoroughly discarded, and is now no longer heard of.

Revered Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Introduction to Chemical Physics, 1881

My what a fine bit of trivia/pedantry I found here. The famous modern author, Thomas Pynchon, also has the name Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, but he is Thomas Ruggles Pynchon 5th to be precise. The 19th Century Thomas Ruggles Pynchon became president of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he taught chemistry and math.

We see here that the root of the word chemistry derives from alchemy, the process by which men for centuries tried to create gold and silver out of other metals via chemical means. The chemical process by which the alchemy was done was then called chemistry.  The original root is Arabic Kimia, hidden or concealed, as it was thought that the gold or silver was hidden somehow in ordinary metals and could be brought to the surface via chemical transformation.

When you open a copy of Introduction to Chemical Physics, the first thing you see, before the text even begins, are rainbows created via a chemical spectrometer.

rainbows

An illustration of rainbows in Principles of Chemical Physics, which appears before the text even starts.

When a material is heated to incandescence, it emits light that is characteristic of the atomic makeup of the material. Particular light frequencies give rise to sharply defined bands on the scale which can be thought of as fingerprints. For example, the element sodium has a very characteristic double yellow band known as the Sodium D-lines at 588.9950 and 589.5924 nanometers, the color of which will be familiar to anyone who has seen a low pressure sodium vapor lamp.

His descendant, the author Thomas Pynchon, is the author of one of the greatest works of modern English literature, Gravity’s Rainbow* (1973). Hence the descendant is foreshadowed by the ancestor, a man perhaps born a century too soon. And there is indeed a lot of science in Gravity’s Rainbow, much of which concerns the commercial applications of chemistry. So here the descendant offers a flashback to the ancestor and takes reverent bow at his gravestone.

* You know,  if you haven’t read it yet, you really need to read this book if you are into literature at all. It’s not easy reading at all. It’s on a par with James Joyce’s Ulysses and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and in fact, all three would be a good choice for the best English novels written since 1850. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what’s going on. Believe it or not, it doesn’t even matter if you understand what’s happening. It’s a magical mystery tour all the same. Just buckle your seatbelt, open the pages and sit back for the ride.

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Filed under Arabic, English language, Linguistics, Literature, Novel, Science

Awful English Dialects: Lancashire Dialect

Good God that is a horrible dialect! It’s spoken in Lancashire, in the north of England. It is in northwestern England, pretty far up, heading up towards Scotland. I just looked at a map and I am not sure if I recognize any cities – maybe Lancaster and Blackpool. It seems like it would be pretty cold up there. There seems to be some Norse influence on the dialect, as with a lot of the dialects in the north of England. If you head south, you start running into an expanding Scouse dialect from Liverpool, which is still very popular among young people.

I think I should be happy for Lancashire because Scouse is one of the worst dialects in all of England. I remember an interview with a boxer from Liverpool. It went on for 10 minutes, and I think I understand 25% of it. It was just awful. Americans who go to live there often never really catch onto the dialect. I remember an American on the Net said that they lived in Liverpool for some time, and after eight years, they still could not understand the young working class women, who had the worst dialects of them all.

Really Manchester dialect is about the same dialect as Lancashire. You can listen to a recording of the hard dialect on Wikipedia. I swear I only got ~80% of it, and that’s not enough for a good conversation, believe me. I would have to see a transcript of the audio  to see how many words I missed because a lot of it was just jumbles and I couldn’t even figure out how many words were in there, where one started and the other ended, much less what the words were. I am listening to John Robb, a musician and critic, who was born in Lancashire, and at times, he is maddeningly hard to understand. He is 56 years old, near my age.

Here is an audio of the dialect from a comedian called Johnny Vegas. I have never heard of this actor, and I don’t think I want to listen to his shtick if he talks in that damned dialect.

I listened to it again, and this time I got more of it. I calculated roughly 87% intelligibility, about the same as Swedish and Norwegian. I am sorry, but that is not enough for me. Also anything below 90% qualifies as a foreign language. Vegas is 46, so he is in the older generation. It looks like the pretty hard dialect is being spoken by people 40-over. The dialect is supposedly dying out, and all I have to say is it can’t happen soon enough!

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Britain, Dialectology, English language, Europe, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Regional, Sociolinguistics

The Case for Splitting off Multiple English Dialects as Separate Languages

Here (on Italian dialects – actually many of which are separate languages).

One can make an excellent case that AAVE (Ebonics), Bayou/Cajun English, Deep South English, Appalachian English, New York English, Newfoundland English, and of course Jamaican creole and Scots are separate languages. Even Scottish English and Geordie probably qualify.

A recent study found only 54% intelligibility for Standard English speakers of Geordie. The speakers were L2 English learners in the Czech Republic, but they scored 100% on the “home” test, which was a test of a US television English. Another study found 42% intelligibility of Scots for native speakers of US English. Having heard Hard Scots spoken by the Scottish underclass, I would say my intelligibility of it was ~5-10% at best or possibly even less. It was almost as bad as listening to something like Greek, and one got the feeling listening to it that you were actually listening to some foreign tongue like, say, Greek.

At any rate, 42% and 54% very well qualify both Scots and Geordie as separate languages. Scots is already split, and it sure would be nice to split Geordie, but to say people would get mad is an understatement.

Scots and Jamaican creole are already split off. There is a lie going around the intellectual circles that it is still controversial in Linguistics whether Scots and Jamaican Creole are separate languages. In fact it is not controversial at all.

I have been listening to English my whole life as an American, and I still cannot understand Bayou speech, hard Southern English, Newfoundland English or the hard forms of Appalachian English or New York English. There are some very weird forms of English spoken on the US Atlantic coastal islands that cannot be understood by anyone not from there, or at least not by me. Gulla English in South Carolina is already split as a creole.

Generally the criterion we use is mutual intelligibility. Also if you can’t pick it up pretty quickly, it’s a separate language.

A speaker of hard New York English came to my mother’s school a while back, and no one could understand him. They still could not understand him after three months of listening to him – this is how you know you are dealing with a separate language. He finally learned how to speak California English, and then he was understood.

I have been listening to hard British English my whole life, and I still cannot understand them. I even had a British girlfriend for 1.5 years, and I still could not understand her on the phone. She went to my parents house for dinner, stayed a couple of hours, and my brother said he didn’t understand a word she said.

You can make an excellent case that the harder forms of British English (or Australian English for that matter) are not the same language as US English. The problem is that if you tried to split them off, everyone would go insane (including a lot of very foolish linguists), and there would be a wild uproar.

Generally we use 90% as the split between language and dialect. Less that that, separate language. More than that, dialect. We use this criterion to split languages from dialects everywhere, yet if we tried to do it for English, the resulting firestorm would be so ferocious that it would not be worth it, but it would be perfectly valid scientifically. Even the very well-validated split of Scots has driven the English-speaking world half-nuts.

I actually have a post in my drafts where I split English into ~10-15 different languages, but I have been terrified to post it. My post splitting German into 137 different languages did not go over well with the Net linguists (who are mostly loudmouths, fools, cranks, and idiots), although a major Germanist, a professor at a big university in Europe wrote me when I was only at 90 languages and said, “I think you are right!” Still, if I try to split English, I may ignite one Hell of a damned firestorm, and I’m just too chicken.

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Fake Controversies, Fake Settled Questions, and Ideological Authoritarianism in Modern Linguistics, with an Emphasis on Mutual Intelligibility and the Dialect/Language Question

There is a lie going around that the dialect/language question is controversial in Linguistics. It really isn’t. Most linguists have a pretty good idea of where to draw the line. If you don’t believe me, study the internals of the Summer Institute of Linguistics change request forms for languages. The field is a lot more uniform on this question than the cranks think.

Hardly anyone thinks Valencian is a separate language. There were 5-10 experts writing in on Valencian and they were all in agreement.

Romagnolo and Emilian were split with zero controversy. All it took was a few authoritative statements by the experts in these varieties to settle the question.

In other words, the language dialect question is what is known as a fake controversy.

Really the only controversy about this question comes from nationalists and language activists.

Sadly, many linguists are nationalists, and their work has been poisoned by their ideology for a long time now. Some of the worst ones of all are in Europe.

Linguistics in the Balkans and Poland has been badly damaged by nationalist linguists for a long time, with no sign of things getting better.

Similar nonsense is going on in of all places ultra-PC Denmark and Sweden. Bornholmian and Southeast Jutnish should have been split from Danish long ago. In fact, Jutnish was split, but Danish nationalist linguists pathetically had it removed.

The many langues d’oil have never been listed and probably never will be. No doubt this is due to the state of Linguistics in ultra-nationalistic France. There are easily 10-15+ langues d’oil that could be split off.

Greek linguist nationalists have raised their ugly heads over splits in Macro-Greek.

Bulgarian Linguistics is all nationalist and has been lost in retardation forever now. No, Macedonian is not a Bulgarian dialect.

There have been some ugly and ridiculous fights in the Baltics especially with Estonian and Latvian, neither of which is a single language. I doubt that Estonian and Latvian linguists are comporting themselves well here given the fanatical nationalism that overwhelms both lands.

There are easily 350-400 language inside of Sinitic or Chinese according to the estimate of the ultimate Sinologist Jerry Norman. The real figure is clearly closer to 1,000-2,000 separate languages. Chinese nationalism is mandatory for anyone doing Sinitic linguistics. No one wants to bring down the wrath of the Chinese government by pulling the curtain on their big lie that Chinese is one language. I am amazed that SIL even split Chinese into 14 languages without getting deluged with death threats.

Arabic is clearly more than one language, and SIL now has it split into 35 languages.  This is one odd case where they may have erred by splitting too much. That’s probably too many, but no one can even do any work in this area, since Arabists and especially Arabic speakers keep insisting, often violently, that Arabic is a single language. Never mind that they routinely can’t understand each other. We have Syrians and Yemenis at my local store, and no, the Syrian Arabic speakers cannot understand hard Yemeni Arabic, sorry. Some of the Yemeni Arabic speakers have even whispered conspiratorially in my ear when the others were not around that speakers of different Yemeni Arabic varieties often cannot even understand each other, and that’s not even split by SIL. I have a feeling that the Arabic situation is more like Chinese than not.

A Swedish nationalist wiped out several well documented separate languages inside of Macro-Swedish simply by making a few dishonest change request forms. SIL pathetically fell for it.

Occitan language activists wiped out the very well-supported split of Occitan into six separate languages based on ideology. They are trying to resurrect Occitan, and they think this will only work if there is one Occitan language with many dialects under it. Splitting it up into six or more languages dooms the tongue. So this was a political argument masquerading as a linguistic one. SIL fell for it again. Pathetic.

No one has talked much about these matters in the field, but a man named Harold Hammerstrom has written some excellent notes about them. He also takes the language/dialect question very seriously and has proposed more scientific ways of doing the splitting.

SIL was recently granted the ability to give out new ISO codes for languages, and since then, SIL has become quite conservative, lumping varieties everywhere in sight. This is because lumping is always the easy way out, as conservatives love lumping in everything from Classification to Historical Linguistics, and the field has been taken over by radical conservatives for some time now. Splitters are kooks, clowns, and laughing stocks. One gets the impression that SIL is terrified to split off new tongues for fear of bad PR.

As noted above, the language/dialect question is not as controversial in the field as Net linguist cranks would have you believe. SIL simply decides whatever they decide, and all the linguists just shrug their shoulders and go back to Optimality Theory, threatening to kill each other over Indo-European reconstructions, scribbling barely readable SJW sociolinguistic blather, or whatever it is they are crunching their brains about.

SIL grants an ISO code or refuses to grant one, and that’s that. No ISO code, no language. The main problem is that they refuse to split many valid languages mostly out of PC fear of causing a furor. Most of the opposition to splitting off new languages comes from linguistic hacks and cranks who exist for the most part on the Internet.

Most real linguists don’t seem to care very much. I know this because I talk to real linguists all the time. When it comes to the dialect/language split, most of them find it mildly intriguing, but hardly anyone is set off. You tell them that some dialect has now been split off as a separate language or two languages have now been merged into one, and they just perk up their ears and say, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Sometimes they shrug their shoulders and say, “They (SIL) are saying this is a separate language now,” as if they really don’t care one way or another.

Linguists definitely get hot under the collar about some things, but not about the dialect/language question, which is regarded more as a quizzical oddity. Most linguists furthermore care nothing at all about the mutual intelligibility debate, which at any rate was resolved long ago by SIL way back in the 1950’s. See the influential book by Cassad written way back then for the final word on the science of mutual intelligibility. Some enterprising linguists are finally starting to take mutual intelligibility seriously, but even they are being much too wishy-washy and unsciency about it. A lot of very silly statements are made like “there is no good, hard scientific way to measure mutual intelligibility, so all figures are guesswork.”

There’s no need for these theoretical shields or hyper-hedging because no one cares. No one in the field other than a few nutcases and kooks on the Internet even gives two damns about this question in the first place. The mutual intelligibility question is actually much less controversial in the field that the linguist kook loudmouths on the Net would have you believe.

We have more important things to fight about, like Everett’s resurrecting of the hated Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis; Chomsky’s Universal Grammar (defended pathetically by the Old Guard and under attack by the Everett crowd who everyone hates); not to mention Altaic; and Joseph Greenberg’s poor, regularly pummeled ghost, along with mass comparison in general.

The field is full of many a silly and pretty lie. One for instance is that Linguistics rejected the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis long ago, and now it is regarded as a laughing stock. Actually that’s not true. Really a bunch of bullies got together and announced very arrogantly that Sapir-Whorf was crap, and then it become written in stone the way a lot of nonsense our field believes does.

If you go back over the papers that “proved” this matter, it turns out that they never proved one thing. They just said that they proved Sapir-Whorf was nonsense, and everyone fell for it or just got in line like they were supposed to.

Not to mention that Linguistics is like an 8th Grade playground.

Let’s put it this way. If you advocate for Sapir-Whorf in academia, I pray for your soul. You also damn well better have tenure.

I don’t know how anyone advocates for Altaic these days. I would never advocate for Altaic or any remotely controversial historical linguistics hypothesis without tenure.

The field is out for blood, and they burn heretics at the stake all the time. We’ve probably incinerated more wrong thinkers than the Inquisition by now.

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Did Liebnitz Discover Indo-European?

The language or dialect of the ancient Goths is very different from present-day Germanic, although it draws from the same source. Ancient Gaulish was even more different, to judge from its closest relative, which is Welsh, Cornish and Breton. But Irish is still more different and displays the traces of a very antique British, Gaulish and Germanic tongue.

However these languages all come from one source and can be considered to be alterations of one and the same language, which could be called Celtic. In the Antiquity, Germanic and Gaulish people were called Celts, and if one tries to understand the origins of Celtic, Latin and Greek, which have many roots in common with Germanic or Celtic languages, one may hypothesize that this is due to the common origin of all these peoples descended from the Scyths, who came from the Black Sea, crossed the Danube and the Vistula Rivers, of whom one part went to Greece, and the other formed Germanic and Gaulish people. This is a consequence of the hypothesis that Europeans came from Asia.” [original in French]

– Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, Nouveaux Essais sur l’entendement Humain, 1764.

Change a few things here and there, and you have Sir William Jones famous speech in Calcutta in 1876, 112 years after this was written.

More than anything else, I suppose this just goes to show us that most great theories have one or often more intellectual precursors.

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A Few Words on Language Endangerment

Carlos Lam: Congrats! However, isn’t language death a rather standard occurrence among societies?

It is, but we linguists don’t really like it. It is quite a debate going on, but the bottom line seems to be that ethnic groups and speaker groups have the right to ownership of their languages. We worry that a lot of speaker groups are being pressured into blowing up their languages prematurely. We like to study these languages and we are not real happy about seeing them vanish into the horizon. On the other hand, is cultural death a natural thing too? Both cultural death and language death are occurring at rates far beyond the normal background rates. English and some of the other major languages are like weapons of mass destruction in taking out languages. You really want a world with one language and one culture? I don’t.

The best position seems to be that speakers have the right to decide the fate of their languages. If speakers wish to continue speaking their languages, then governments and linguists should help them to preserve and continue to develop their languages. Quite a few groups do not seem to care that their languages are going are extinct or they are even driving or drove their languages extinct, and they have the full right to do so. In these cases, we will simply do salvage linguistics. There are many salvage linguistics projects going on in the world today.

You won’t get very far with linguists arguing that language death is a good thing. Most people don’t think so.

Occurring at the same time as language death is a lot of language revitalization. Even fully dead languages are being resurrected from the grave. Also in addition to language death, we are creating new languages all the time. In this piece, I created a total of net 13 new languages. And new languages are occurring on their own.

To give you an example. A group of Crimean Tatars moved from Crimea to Turkey about 200 years ago in the course of the Crimean War. They have been speaking Crimean Tatar in Turkey ever since, for 200 years now. But in that time, Crimean Tatar in Turkey and Crimean Tatar in Ukraine has diverged so much that Turkish Crimean Tatar is now, in my opinion, a fully separate tongue from the Ukrainian language. This is because in Turkey, a lot of Turkish has gone into Turkish Crimean Tatar which is not well understand in the Ukraine. And in the Ukraine, a lot of Russian has gone in which is not well understood in Turkey. Hence, Crimean Tatar speakers in Turkey and Ukraine can no longer understand each other well.

To give you another example, there are many Kazakh speakers in China. However, Kazakh speakers in China can no longer understand Standard Kazakh broadcasts from Kazakhstan because so many Russian loans have gone into Standard Kazakh that it is no longer intelligible with Chinese Kazakh speakers. I learned this too late for my paper, otherwise I would have split Chinese Kazakh off as a separate language.

There are many cases like this.

Further, many languages are being discovered. Sonqori, Western Khalaj, Todzhin, Duha, Dukha and Siberian Tatar are just a few of the new languages that I created. Khorosani Turkic was split into three different languages. Dayi was subsumed into one of the Khorosani Turkic languages. Altai was split from one into five separate languages, but the truth is that it is six languages, not five. Salar was split into Western Salara and Eastern Salar. Ili Turki was eliminated becuase it does not even exist. It is simply a form of Uighur. Kabardian and Balkar, Tatar and Bashkir, Kazakh and Kirghiz were some languages that were eliminated and subsumed into single tongues such as Tatar-Bashkir, Kazakh-Kirghiz, and Kabardian-Balkar. And on and on.

Languages and of course dialects are dying all the time, but new languages are being created by humans and by linguists as we continue our splitting projects. Many lects referred to as dialects are more properly seen as separate languages. Chinese is at least 450 separate languages, only 14 of which are recognized. German may be up to 130 separate languages, only 20 of which are recognized.

There are quite a few more languages to be created out there, but there is a lot of resistance to splitters like me from more conservative linguists and especially from linguistic nationalists. For while Chinese may well be over 1,000 languages, the Chinese government is anti-scientifically insistent that there is but one Chinese language and maybe 2,000 “dialects,” most of which are probably separate languages. The German government is quite resistant to the idea that there is more than one form of German, though I believe Bavarian and Swiss German have official status in Austria and Switzerland.

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“The Proof Is in the Pudding”

What is the origin of this saying?

The original phrase is “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” and was generally used to say that one had to taste one’s food in order to know if it was good.

Actually at the time the saying originated, pudding was not the dessert we know now. Instead it was a meat item resembling a sausage. Back in those days, meat items were easily contaminated and the only to way determine such a thing was to take a bite out of it.

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Simplification of Language with Increasing Civilization: A Result of Contact or Civilization Itself

Nice little comment here on an old post, Primitive People Have Primitive Languages and Other Nonsense? 

I would like to dedicate this post to my moronic field of study itself, Linguistics, which believes in many a silly thing as consensus that have never been proved and are either untrue or probably untrue.

One of the idiocies of my field is this belief that in some way or another, most human languages are pretty much the same. They believe that no language is inherently better or worse than any other language, which itself is quite a dubious proposition right there.

They also believe, incredibly, that no language is more complex or simple than any other language. Idiocy!

Another core belief is that each language is perfectly adapted for its speakers. This leads to their rejecting claims that some languages are unsuitable for the modern world due to lack of modern vocabulary. This common belief of many minority languages is obviously true. Drop a Papuan in Manhattan, and see what good his Torricelli tongue does him. He won’t have words for most of the things around him. He won’t even have verbs for most of the actions he sees around him. His language is nearly useless in this environment.

My field also despises notions that some languages are better suited to poetry, literature or say philosophy than others or that some languages are more or less concise or exact than others or that certain concepts or ways of thinking are better expressed in one language as opposed to another. However, this is a common belief among polyglots, and I would not be surprised if it was true.

The question we are dealing with below is based on the notion that many primitive languages are exceeding complex and the common sense observation that as languages acquire more speakers and civilization increases, one tends to see a simplification of language.

My field out and out rejects both statements.

They will tell you that primitive languages are no more complex than more civilized tongues and that there is no truth to the statement that languages simplify with greater numbers of speakers and increased civilization. However, I have shot these two rejected notions to many non-linguists, and they all felt that these statements had truth to them. Once again, my field violates common sense in the name of the abstract and abstruse “we can’t prove anything about anything” scientific nihilism so common in the intellectually degraded social sciences.

Indeed, some of the most wildly complex languages of all can be found among rather primitive peoples such as Aborigines, Papuans, Amerindians and even Africans. Most language isolates like Ket, Burashaski and Basque are pretty wild. The languages of the Caucasus are insanely complex, and that region doesn’t exactly look like Manhattan. Siberian languages are often maddeningly complex.

Even in China, in the remoter parts of China, language becomes highly differentiated and probably more complex. I know an American who was able to learn Cantonese and Mandarin who told me that at age 35, for an American to learn Hokkien was virtually impossible. He tried various schemes, but they all failed. He finally started to get a hold of the language with a strict eight hour a day study schedule. Anything less resulted in failure. Hokkien speakers that he spoke too said you needed to grow up speaking Hokkien to be able to speak the language well at all. By the way, this is another common sense notion that linguists reject. They say there are no languages so difficult that it is very hard to pick them up unless you grew up with them.

The implication here is that Min Nan is even more complex than the difficult Mandarin or even the forbidding Cantonese, which even many Mandarin speakers give up trying to learn because it is too hard.

Min Nan comes out Fujian Province, a land of forbiddingly high mountains where language differentiation is very high, and there is often difficult intelligibility even from village to village. In one area, fifteen years ago an American researcher decided to walk to a nearby village. It took him six very difficult hours over steep mountains. He could have taken the bus, but that was a four-day trip! A number of these areas had no vehicle roads until recently and others were crossed by vast rivers that had no bridges across them. Transportation was via foot. Obviously civilization in these parts of China is at a more primitive level, and it’s hard to develop Hong Kong-style cities in places with such isolating and rugged terrain.

It’s more like, “Oh, those people on the other side of the ridge? We never go there, but we heard that their language is a lot different from ours. It’s too hard to go over that range so we never go to that area.”

In the post, I theorized that as civilization increased, time becomes money, and there is a need to get one’s point across quickly, whereas more primitive peoples often spend no more than 3-4 hours a day working and the rest sitting around, playing  and relaxing. A former Linguistics professor told me that one theory is that primitive people, being highly intelligent humans (all humans are highly intelligent by default), are bored by their primitive lives, so they enjoy their wildly complex languages and like to relax, hang out and play language games with them to test each other on how well they know the structures. They also like to play tricky and maybe humorous language games with their complicated languages. In other words, these languages are a source of intellectual stimulation and entertainment in an intellectually impoverished area.

Of course, my field rejects this theory as laughably ridiculous, but no one has disproven it yet, and I doubt if the hypothesis has even been tested, hence it is an open question. My field even tends to reject the notion of open questions, preferring instead to say that anything not proven (or even tested for that matter) is demonstrably false. That’s completely anti-scientific, but that’s the trend nowadays across the board as scientistic thinking replaces scientific thinking.

Of course this is in line with the terrible conservative or reactionary trend in science where Science is promoted to a fundamentalist religion and scientists decide that various things are simply proven true or proven not true and attempts to change the consensus paradigm are regarded derisively or with out and out fury and rage and such attempts are rejected via endless moving of goalposts with the goal of making it never possible to prove the hypothesis. If you want to see an example of this in Linguistics, look at the debate around  Altaic. They have set it up so that no matter how much existing evidence we are able to gather for the theory, we will probably never be able to prove it as barriers to proof have been set up to make the question nearly unprovable.

It’s rather senseless to set up Great Wall of China-like barriers to proof in science because at some point,  you are hardly proving anything new, apparently because you don’t want to.

Fringe science is one of the most hated branches of science and many scientists refer to it as pseudoscience. Practitioners of fringe science have a very difficult time as the Scientific Establishment often persecutes them, for instance trying to get them fired from professorships. Yet this Establishment is historically illiterate because many of the most stunning findings in history were made by widely ridiculed fringe scientists.

The commenter below rejects my theory that increased civilization itself results in language simplification, as it gets more important to get your point across as quickly  as possible with increasing complexity and development of society. Instead he says civilization leads to increased contact between speakers of different dialects or language, and in such cases,  language must be simplified, often dramatically, in order for any decent communication to occur. Hence increased contact, not civilization in and of itself, is the driver of simplification.

I like this theory, and I think he may be onto something.

To me the simplification of languages of more ‘civilized’ people is mostly a product of language contact rather than of civilization itself. If the need arises to communicate with foreign people all of the time, for example in trade, then the language must become more simple in order to be able to be understood by more people.

Also population size matters a lot. It has been found that the greater the number of speakers, the greater the rate of language change. For example Polynesian languages, although having been isolated centuries or even millennia ago, still have only minor differences from one another.

In the case of many speakers, not all will be able to learn all the rules of a language, so they will tend to use the most common ones. And if the language is split in many dialects, then speakers of each dialect must find a compromise in order to communicate, which might come out as simple. If we add sociolects, specific registers for some occasions, sacred registers, slang etc, something that will arise in a big and stratified civilization, then the linguistic barriers people will need to overcome become greater. So it is just normal that after some centuries, this system to simplify.

We don’t need to look farther than Europe. Most languages of the western half being spoken in countries with strong trade links to one another and with much of the world later in history are quite analytic, but the languages of the more isolated eastern part are still like the older Indo-European languages. Basques, living in a small isolated pocket in the Iberian Peninsula, have kept a very complex language. Icelanders, also due to isolation, have kept a quite conservative Germanic language, whereas most modern Germanic languages are ridiculously simplified. No one can argue in his sane mind that Icelanders are primitives.

On the other hand, Romanian, being spoken in the more isolated Balkans, has retained more of the complex morphology of Latin compared to West Romance languages. And of course advance of civilization won’t automatically simplify the language, as Turkish and Russian, both quite complicated languages compared to the average European tongue, don’t seem to give up their complexity nowadays.

On the other hand, indigenous people were living in a much more isolated setting compared to the modern world, the number of speakers was comparatively low, and there was no need to change. Also, neighboring tribes were often hostile to one another, so each tribal group sought to make itself look special. That is the reason why places with much inter-tribal warfare like New Guinea have so many languages which are so different from one another. When these languages need to communicate, we get ridiculously simple contact languages like Hiri Motu.
So language simplification is more a result of language contact rather than civilization itself.

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Western Europe: What Native Languages Are Spoken in France?

Montleek: Robert, is it possible that in Western Europe, the regional lects have been preserved better, while in eastern Europe are preserved worse? There was communism/socialism in Eastern Europe, therefore more tendency not to continue speaking with regional lect.

In France, the regional lects are the langues d’ oil (still spoken, believe it or not!), Occitan, Breton, Alsatian, Franconian, Arpitan, and Flemish.

With Arpitan, Alsatian, Occitan and the langues d’oil, you can definitely get to the point of having a different lect in every major city if not every town in some cases.

There are a number of languages split through these regional lects. There are probably at least 10 full languages in the langues d’oil, ~20 in Occitan and Arpitan, five in Breton and more than one in Alsatian. The Flemish spoken in France is a separate language from that spoken in Belgium, hardly intelligible to a Belgian.

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